Great Places to Stay
- Glenmorangie House, Tain, Ross-shire
In some of her reviews of Scottish hotels, travel writer Vivien Devlin has been known to be critical of some of the establishments she has stayed in. But when she visited Glenmorangie House she reckoned that this 5-star hotel should get an extra star for creating the wonderful atmosphere of a friendly, private country house.
Glenmorangie (the accent is on the second syllable) is a most exceptional and unique place to stay. The Scottish Tourist Board describe it as a 5-star, small hotel. This does not give the exceptional personal hospitality and special ambience full justice. Glenmorangie is not simply a small luxury hotel. Let's add an extra star for the bold initiative of embroidering that idea and creating a delightful private country house where every guest feels like one is visiting the home of family or friends. The very fact that the email address firstname.lastname@example.org gives you some idea of the aim and objective of coming to stay here.
About half an hour's drive from Inverness, you take the winding B9175 down towards to the Moray Firth, through the village of Hilton and on down the drive until you see the sign painted on a huge whisky barrel. Located conveniently just ten miles from the Glenmorangie Distillery at Tain, the house was bought by the company in 1989 for business use and corporate hospitality. But in 1998 it was decided to open the doors and invite members of the public to come and share the pleasures of the Glenmorangie Highland Estate.
The charming white washed L-shaped house has been tastefully modernised and extended from the original 17th century house of the Cadboll Estate. In the gardens are the impressive ruins of the old castle as well as the old farm steading courtyard and byre. Immaculate lawns, orchard, colourful flower borders and a walled kitchen garden surround the house.
The first impression is of utter peace amidst this wide peninsula of open farmland. Then you get your first whiff of the fresh salty seaweedy air blowing up from the long sandy beach, just a short walk down the path.
A Warm Welcome
After a long drive from Edinburgh, it's time to unpack and relax. Helen, the house manager greets us personally as we walk towards the front door, and a young girl also rushes forward to assist with our bags. There is no official reception desk, no checking in and no key to your room. This is a private house amongst friends.
There are just six en suite bedrooms in the main house and we were taken up to Morayshire, a very spacious double room with five magnificent windows to the front of the house, looking down towards the Firth and windows to the side, overlooked the pretty garden.
The room is beautifully and cosily furnished with thick pile wool carpet, and huge armchairs dressed for the Scottish winter in warm honey and crimson checked tweeds. These fabrics it was nice to learn are supplied locally from Anta, which manufacture quality textiles, carpets, rugs, throws, scarves and bags.
An old-fashioned dark oak bed, wardrobe, chests and tables give the room a lovely traditional country cottage look. There is no television provided although the house directory does mention that this can be supplied if requested. No, this is the ideal opportunity for lots of walks, to read and rest. Also to eat and drink we are led to understand. A small decanter of Ten-year-old Glenmorangie single malt whisky is ready waiting for us with two glasses on the table by the window. What a welcome touch. This is perfect just to sit awhile and settle into our Highland home.
There is further accommodation in three small cottages, sleeping a total of six guests offering ideal accommodation for families or guests with pets.
Dinner at Glenmorangie
As this is not a hotel with individual tables in the dining room, guests are invited to gather in the Morning Room at around 7.30pm for drinks. So after our warming dram, a refreshing bath and changed into suitable evening attire we wander downstairs to meet our fellow houseguests. It's a cool September night and the log fire is roaring. There's a group of six friends visiting from Aberdeen and Helensburgh for a long weekend which sounds like a lovely idea for a reunion. A couple from Yorkshire has come with their two Labrador dogs to experience the outdoor life of Scotland. Other guests of all ages from across the UK have gathered here and it's a real pleasure to enjoy this instant private dinner party, meeting a host of new friends. The gin and tonics, drams and cocktails are poured, with top-ups generously offered as well as trays of canapés, baby prawns and scallop kebabs, crab cakes, and savoury snacks of every description. So tempting but dinner is just a few minutes away.
A four course set dinner is served around a communal dining room table. Any dietary request given in advance will be easily catered for. We were led through to the magnificent long, low ceiling dining room, dark green walls with a series of portraits along the wall in keeping with the ambience of an old family home. The polished mahogany table is elegantly set, glistening with crystal and silverware. Each guest has his or her own named setting, separating partners so that guests may mix and mingle. The Master Chef in the kitchen is Anne Mackenzie who is a staunch believer in serving and promoting the finest local produce.
The pheasant or lamb you may be sampling comes from the surrounding farmland, with all game and meat supplied by Munro the family butcher at Tain, which has been there for generations. The monkfish is caught just off shore in the Moray Firth and wander down to the beach and you'll see the lobster pots. The seafood could not be fresher and is delivered daily to the kitchen door by George Skinner, owner of the 38-foot boat the Shemara. George knows only too well the prime quality sought by Chef Mackenzie and he selects the finest from the catch for Glenmorangie House.
The kitchen garden is well planted with herbs, vegetables and soft-fruit and therefore as far as possible everything you taste at the Glenmorangie dining room table will be freshly caught and locally grown.
The daily changing menu is created with great enthusiasm and sheer passion for food with the emphasis on taste. Starters might be a thin slither of Grouse or Halibut and Smoked Salmon Terrine served with lemon balm salad, with the option of a spicy vegetarian Pasta Arrabbiata. This course is followed by soup - on this particularly evening a bowl of tasty home-made Cullin Skink or if preferred a refreshing fruit sorbet. Then Fillet of Ross-shire beef, creamy leeks, spiced cabbage or perhaps lightly grilled tender fillet of Mackerel, freshly delivered no doubt to the kitchen a few hours ago.
Finish off with Sticky toffee pudding or biscuits and cheese. And yes the cheese is locally supplied from Ruaraidh [Rory] at Highland Fine Cheeses. His family were dairy farmers and so everything is produced in the traditional way such as their double cream Crowdie, Caboc and Strathdon Blue.
After dinner, guests move back to the Morning Room or through to the cosy Buffalo room, with huge comfy sofas and a roaring fire in a huge stone hearth. Now it's time for coffee and sample a Glenmorangie malt or two and continue the animated conversations with your newfound friends until bedtime.
Your Own Private House Party
Apart from the basic fact that this is a country house not a conventional hotel, the added advantage is the flexibility of being able to book not just one room but the entire house on an exclusive basis. With only six bedrooms in the main house, this is perfect for a private dinner party, a small wedding, a weekend away with friends, a business conference or corporate leisure event. Imagine booking Glenmorangie for a special birthday party, Christmas or Hogmanay break! All staffing, five star hospitality and personal attention will be given for your own personal house party.
An overnight stay is totally inclusive, with afternoon tea, four course dinner with perfectly selected wine and after dinner dram and full Scottish breakfast the next morning all part of the tariff.
Throughout the year there are several weekends selected for their famous Whisky Tasting events. This involves a two-night stay with a tour of the Glenmorangie Distillery and also the opportunity to sample various blends, malts and range of whiskies, under the guidance of an expert. There are also Hogmanay, Gourmet, and Rabbie Burns weekends arranged every year which are proving very popular indeed.
At Your Leisure
Royal Dornoch Golf Club, Skibo, Tain and other courses are within a short drive away as well as local salmon and trout fishing and a wide range of leisure pursuits such as 4x4 driving, game shooting, stalking and pony trekking can all be arranged.
On Sunday morning, after a fabulous breakfast including porridge, fresh fruit, fresh farm eggs, scrambled with smoked salmon, tea and home-made preserves, (everything you could wish for), guests tended to collapse in the Morning room to devour the papers. But soon the sunshine beckoned us outside and we wandered down to the beach. This stretches for miles and is perfect for beachcombing, finding giant tractor tyres, broken lobster pots, fishing lines, drift wood, rusting anchors and dozens of bottles - but no messages inside. It was a warm bright day, clear blue sky with a sheer brightness over the sea. We strolled over the sands, collecting shells, clambering on the rocks and filled our lungs with the pure Highland air. What could be a healthier spot!
Glenmorangie House is personally and highly recommended as a very special and unique place to stay. Here you will experience the true art of professional and gracious hospitality combining a friendly, welcoming, homely atmosphere complemented by respectful and attentive service by the young staff. Casual by day, sophistication by night. Whatever the occasion, whether you come alone, with a partner or many friends, this is a wonderful Highland retreat in the Glen of Tranquillity.
For more information or to make reservations see the Glenmorangie Website.
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